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Syracuse women’s basketball: taking stock of the Orange’s early season play

Eight games down, 20 more to go. There’s a lot to like at the quarter-mark of the season.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

If you can believe it, the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team has already mowed through close to a third of its 2022-2023 schedule.

As the saying goes: time flies when you’re having fun.

Right now the Orange (6-2) sit comfortability in the middle of the pack in the ACC, per our latest look at what’s going on across the NCAAW world.

With most of the non-conference schedule out of the way, now is a great time to do a check-up on the Orange. How are the individual players on the team performing statistically? What is there to make of the on-the-court product so far? Is the team excelling in some areas and lagging in others?

This piece serves as a quick but informative summary of the Orange’s season so far and what lies ahead for Syracuse.

Let’s get to it.

The individuals who are shining (and dimming)

We’ll start with the individual players. We can’t go far in the conversation without talking about Dyaisha Fair’s play so far.

Through eight games, Fair is averaging 18.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.5 APG, and 2.9 SPG. Despite the subpar efficiency (37% from the field and 33% from three), Fair continues to heat up as she adjusts to her new team.

The Buffalo transfer has been Syracuse’s go-to scorer, especially in crunch time. The Orange possess a legit ballhandler who can be trusted to make the right decisions when it matters most. Against Yale, Fair all but saved the day against a Syracuse offense that really didn’t get going until Fair started to get hot from three. And, next to 2022 All-ACC honorable mention candidate Teisha Hyman, Syracuse has two primary scorers who can also get the rest of the team going.

Speaking of Hyman, she’s kicked things off this year right where she left off last season. with averages of 14.6 PPG, 5.3 RP, 4.0 APG, and 2.6 SPG in just over 29 minutes per contest.

Like Fair, Hyman’s playmaking has been irreplaceable on the court, especially when the two share the court together. Combined, the Fair-Hyman backcourt is averaging 8.9 assists per game and 5.5 (!!!) steals per game. Hyman’s outside shooting is lacking, but she makes up for it with her size, ability to attack the rim, and take advantage of smaller defenders in isolation opportunities.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Some of Syracuse’s other incoming transfers have looked great so far as well.

The starting frontcourt of Dariauna Lewis (11.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.0 SPG, and 2.4 BPG) and Asia Strong (9.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 37% from three) have had their moments throughout this season. Strong had some strong performances earlier against non-conference opponents at home, while Lewis is coming off making some momentum-swinging plays against Yale a few days ago.

Things get interesting once you get to the fifth starter.

Alaina Rice began the season starting with Buffalo transfer Georgia Woolley dealing with an early injury that limited her playing time. In the past few games, Woolley earned the starting nod over Rice.

Rice’s defense and effort have been key in recent games, especially earning the team hard hat for her performance against Yale. The outside shooting isn’t too great (33% from the field and 26% from three), but the stats don’t measure her impact.

Woolley’s shooting (34% from the field and 31% from three) isn’t lighting the world on fire either, but in theory, her floor spacing is needed for a team like this one.

Across the board, the Orange look more competitive, well-rounded, and versatile compared to last season’s squad. That’s already a stark improvement.

Breaking down the Orange’s resume

With all that positive in mind, Syracuse’s start to the season needs to be put in context.

Per the NCAA’s NET ranking system, the Orange grade out as the 79th-best team in all of women’s collegiate basketball. To date, based on the NCAA’s rankings, Syracuse currently sits as the 11-best team in the ACC.

So, why the low ranking?

Again, the Orange’s 6-2 record needs to be put into context. Syracuse’s six wins have come against programs with an NCAA NET ranking of 101st or bigger. However, the team’s only two losses are against opponents who rank between 26th and 50th. Translation: Syracuse is crushing the teams it’s supposed to beat, but is losing to better squads.

The numbers won’t improve until the team builds up a substantial resume against top-100 competition. Up next the Orange will play two subpar programs in Coppin State and Wagner at home. But after that, the Orange will need to put its foot on the gas. December 18th brings the ACC opener against Wake Forest at the JMA Wireless Dome.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stony Brook at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

To summarize, only time will tell if the Orange can keep up the winning pace. By mid-January, the team will have seven games against its conference under its belt. That will be the sample size needed to judge how truly legit this program will be for the rest of the season.

Some final takeaways

Competitive play against the ACC will be the ultimate deal-breaker for how the Orange will fare the rest of the season. The statistical outliers will begin to disappear for all the teams in the conference, and the Orange can (hopefully) start accumulating some quality wins for its potential March Madness resume.

Speaking of resume, Syracuse's matchups against Wake Forest and Louisville will be must-watch games heading into the new year. These will be our earliest indicator on if the Orange can push forward in what’s turned out to be an elite women’s basketball conference so far this season.

It’s safe to say that the Felisha Legette-Jack era in Syracuse is off to a good start. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. This team will still need a few more weeks to gel and build up more chemistry. There’s more than double the number of transfer players on the roster than there are returning starters.

Specifically, something I’ll be watching for is those aforementioned transfer players, especially Lewis, Strong, and Fair. Can they hold up against the ACC? That’s a question that will certainly answer how this season will go for Syracuse moving forward. There’s still plenty of season left to go, and the fun is just getting started.